Unless you have religious school, getting up early on a Sunday morning can be quite the challenge for a teenager.
But this past Sunday, almost 250 of them awoke to play a part in J-Serve — an annual day of community service in Pittsburgh and around the world.
Based at the Squirrel Hill Jewish Community Center, high school students from all over the Greater Pittsburgh Area came together and participated in various forms of community jobs such as cooking, cleaning, shipping, sorting and gardening. Volunteers were spread among 17 sites around the city, racking up 700 hours of community service.
When asked whether she felt she made an impact that day, one of the teens, Jamie Eisner, a sophmore at Lincoln Music School, thought the answer was obvious.
“Yeah, look at me,” she said, referring to the dirt stain on her J-Serve T-shirt.
Volunteer sites included Habitat for Humanity, Gwen’s Girls, Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry, Construction Junction, Ronald McDonald House, Sara Heinz House, Hosanna House, Toy Lending Library, Thriftique, Becca’s Closet, Bethany House, Charles Morris Nursing Home and Tree Planting Pittsburgh.
“J-Serve is such a great organization because it breaks down the barriers that unfortunately exist in our community,” said Pittsburgh Allderdice senior Julia Holber, one of three J-Serve chairs. “Teens from all denominations, synagogues and youth groups come together to make a difference.”
Aside from the participation at service sites, volunteers took part in an educational program beforehand in which they broke up into smaller groups and created skits about the holiday of Lag B’Omer, which happened to be Sunday as well.
Themed around the Jewish holiday, Sunday’s dictum was to “Get Fired Up” about giving back to the community.
Overseen by the Agency for Jewish Learning’s Nitza Bucritz Ford, the teen steering committee began planning the annual day last September.
Led by chairs Julia Holber, Eli Gelernter and Tova Perlman, the committee consisted of eight other teens — Claire Akers, Adi Kadosh, Sam Knapp, Emily Gorby, Josh Leib, Jacob Parker, Rachel Reibach and Max Zach Yoffee.
Having grown over the past seven years to become the largest day of community involvement in the city, many donations were made from local businesses, as well as a speech from City Councilman Corey O’Connor. Those included a $4,000 grant from the Giant Eagle Foundation, boxes of pizza from Milky Way and dozens of bagels from Dunkin’ Donuts.
While volunteers were cooking a meal at the Ronald McDonald house, recycling bicycle parts at Construction Junction, weeding a hill in Bloomfield for trees to be planted, and more, student responses to the question “Why do you participate in J-Serve?” was made into a large collage. The collage, which makes out the shape of a sun, was donated to the JCC for their annual support and hospitality for the day.
As the day came to a close and people began to clear out, Gelernter looked around the Katz Theater with a smile on his face.
“I have had people that have inspired me to want to make this day memorable,” he said, “and I think we’ve done that today.”
(Jesse Irwin can be reached at email@example.com.)